Willie Nelson's nickname the Red Headed Stranger predates his 1975 concept album of the same name. In fact, it came from a '50s country single Nelson loved playing on his Fort Worth, Texas radio show, The Western Express.
Journalist Edith Lindeman and radio announcer Carl Stutz co-wrote the original "Redheaded Stranger" song, which was first published in 1953.
"I was just sitting at home one night, playing with the idea of colors," Lindeman once said about the tale of a redheaded hero from Blue Rock (inspired by her husband) who rode a black stallion and met a yellow-haired woman on a bay-colored horse.
The Virginia-based songwriters had Perry Como in mind, but the pop crooner could not record it due to publishing issues.
Instead, another radio personality, Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith, immortalized the story-song that's since become synonymous with Nelson's outlaw image. Smith's also known as the host of TV's first widely-syndicated country music variety show (The Arthur Smith Show) and as a composer of "Feudin' Banjos," the original version of "Dueling Banjos."
Nelson's Columbia Records debut built a broader mythology for Lindeman and Stutz's song by pairing it with new material ("Time of the Preacher," "Denver" and "Bandera"), old favorites (Fred Rose's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," Scotty Wiseman's "Remember Me (When the Candle Lights Are Gleaming)," Hank Cochran's "Can I Sleep in Your Arms" and Eddy Arnold and Wally Fowler's "I Couldn't Believe It Was True") and a mix of both (the "Blue Rock Montana"/"Red Headed Stranger" medley).
It's a great album and a shining example of why outlaw country was more about the artistic control to tell stories that went beyond what Nashville's movers-and-shakers wanted and less about hard living. This freedom also allowed Nelson to record with his musical family (i.e. harmonica wiz Mickey Raphael and drummer Paul English) instead studio musicians.
Red Headed Stranger concludes the benchmark trilogy of country albums that followed Nelson's move back to Austin, with the others being Shotgun Willie (1973) and Phases and Stages (1974).
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